City clears Portland police official whose texts sparked controversy
Flanked by about 20 police employees, Mayor Ted Wheeler and Chief Danielle Outlaw announced Thursday, Sept. 12, that the city won't discipline the police lieutenant whose texts with a right-wing activist sparked controversy earlier this year.
An investigation by the city's civilian police oversight unit, Independent Police Review, found that the police official in question, Lt. Jeff Niiya, violated no policies and was working to promote public safety while communicating with Patriot Prayer leader Joey Gibson, according to Chief Danielle Outlaw.
"There was no evidence of a policy violation," Outlaw said in a press conference announcing the decision. She added that the controversy that arose in February had a major impact on the community and the police bureau, "most especially Lt. Niiya and his family."
Wheeler, for his part, said he was gratified by the outcome, including that the bureau had beefed up its training and protocols as a result of the investigation.
But while praising Niiya and police in general, he stopped well short of apologizing for comments he made when the texts first surfaced — specifically, that they were "disturbing" and crossed "several boundaries."
In response to reporters' questions, Wheeler at first defended his his statements as "appropriate at the time," but later conceded he could have been "more overt in giving Lt. Niiya ... the benefit of the doubt."
The press conference was cut short before reporters could ask Wheeler follow-ups.
The controversy began when Willamette Week and the Portland Mercury published articles about friendly sounding text messages their reporters had obtained through public records requests.
The story went viral, reaching national and even overseas publications like The Guardian in the United Kingdom, with activists on social media adding new information and video footage of Niiya to the public realm at a phenomenal rate.
Civil rights groups issued statements of concern and Portland City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty issued a prepared statement accusing Niiya of "collaborating" with Patriot Prayer and of providing "aid and support for their hate marches."
Critics reacted to the chatty texts with suspicion, especially one text that warned Gibson that one of his cohorts had a warrant out on him and risked arrest if he showed up at a protest.
In another text from Niiya to Gibson, the official wrote, "We have a large group of antifa trying to flank us and you. We are stopping them for now … but not sure how long."
"Antifa" refers to "anti-fascist" forces, which sometimes engage in violent confrontations on Portland streets.
In another, he wrote, "Heads up just told 4-5 black Bloch (another nickname for antifa) heading your way. One carrying a flag," reads another text from Niiya. "We will have officers nearby but you may want to think about moving soon if more come."
As protest liaison, Niiya's job had been to build rapport with organizers on all sides of the political spectrum, in order to gather intelligence and to use relationships to minimize violent confrontations.
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